updated 08:28 pm EST, Sat February 23, 2013
Parallel case could nullify Samsung patent at heart of dispute
Among the many other battles Samsung and Apple are fighting in various courts around the world, a particular case in Germany involves Samsung suing Apple, claiming that the latter's "VoiceOver" feature violates some Samsung patents. The case, being tried in Mannheim, has been put on hold as Apple has challenged the validity of the patents as a whole, which experts believe has a good chance of being successful. The judge in the case said that a possible nullification of the one remaining patent being asserted could render the current case moot.
Originally, Samsung had claimed that the whole of VoiceOver was a violation of its patents, but after it was pointed out that reading on-screen text existing long before Samsung patented the idea, it narrowed its claims to avoid having the entire set of patents tossed out, reports patent case observer Florian Mueller. Currently, the company says that Apple's VoiceOver feature infringes on one particular patent, regarding the ability for a voice to read out the names or statuses of icons on the screen. The judge in the case, Andreas Voss, has already expressed doubt that Samsung's reconstructed claims will survive if the original patents are nullified, AppleInsider reports.
Should Samsung succeed, however, the claim it is making could have the effect of denying the VoiceOver service to disabled users of the iPhone. Visually-impaired users such as musician Stevie Wonder have frequently noted that Apple's VoiceOver implementation works well for them and is a major selling point of the iPhone and other iOS devices for disabled users. With VoiceOver on, a black rectangle appears around icons, and users tap them once to hear a description to ensure they have chosen the correct icon before double-tapping the button to activate the selected app.
A victory for either party in the Samsung lawsuit is likely to have ramifications throughout Europe, as EU member countries' court decisions are generally respected in other member countries' courts. Should the patent authorities in Germany nullify the Samsung patents, Apple could use the ruling to prevent Samsung from challenging VoiceOver in other countries, even the US.
A Samsung spokesperson told AllThingsD that the company "continues to believe that Apple has infringed our patented mobile technologies, and we will continue to take the measures necessary to protect our intellectual property rights." Despite numerous court battles, Samsung has yet to prevail in charges of Apple infringing its patents in any court other than one ruling in Samsung's home country of South Korea -- and in that ruling Samsung as found to also be infringing on Apple's patents more or less equally.
The Mannheim case will now be stayed until a clear ruling on the patent's nullification has been issued.